Slant 33 recently asked: We’ve learned that teenagers live in a world isolated from adults, and, unfortunately, most of our ministries perpetuate this. How are you addressing this problem? Conveniently, the response to the question is easily attached to the video above.
There was an old comic strip character named Pogo Possum that lived in a swamp. Every now and then, the artist Walt Kelly would take his characters and enter into a little political commentary. A famous line, used to describe the challenges of pollution and the environment now also seem appropriate when addressing the issue of ministries perpetuating a world where young people live isolated from adults.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
If we envision our ministry exclusively towards young people and therefore focus an overwhelming amount of time only with them, then we are part of the problem.
If we find ourselves with many young friends but rarely socialize with adults our own age or older, then we are part of the problem.
Perhaps we find our own professional value, or even our own self worth, tied into how many “friends” or “likes” we have on facebook. If so, then we are part of the problem.
When we become aware that we are the most referenced adult in the testimony of young people’s faith lives, then we are part of the problem. Likewise, if most of our young people would also nominate us for such high school-ish honors as “Coolest,” “Funniest,” or “Most Spiritual…;” well, then we are definitely part of the problem.
The National Study for Youth and Religion indicates that adults influence (including and beyond parents) does make a difference in the faith trajectories of young people. And, we know this is true from our very own lives. We join Sir Issac Newton in recognizing that “If (we) have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
It is the privilege and responsibility of a youth ministry leader to seek, empower, encourage, and love the many Giants into the lives of young people. We can no be comfortable being a part of the problem of isolating young people. We must be the change, as Mahatma Gandhi is often credited with saying, which we want to see in the world.
Our job descriptions must change. I once heard Kenda Dean remind us of the story of Moses in the book of Numbers, chapter 11. The Israelites became discontented with their lives in the exodus from Egypt. They complained bitterly to Moses and he passed it along to the Lord. “Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the Lord “Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?
Moses was so done with the situation that he basically asked God to kill him now. Have you had those sorts of days in your ministry?
The Lord’s solution was to have Moses assemble seventy elders in a tent and then to share the spirit that God had placed in Moses with them. “that they may share the burden of the people with you. The Lord’s generosity was so great that it even flowed to Eldad and Medad who had remained in camp and did not attend the tent meeting. They began to prophesy in the camp. Moses’ response was not out of jealousy, but to reflect wistfully “If only all the people of the Lord were prophets!”
There must be both a quantity and a quality of time that we spend with adults who share in ministry with young people. We can no longer be satisfied with small, exclusive, tight little core groups of seven or seventeen. Seventy adults has become my new magic number of those involved in the ministry…. And if that number seems rather small to you and/or you are from a significantly large faith community… then four-hundred-and-ninety.
And… with a sense of shared spirit, we find ourselves freed being in the game of youth ministry to win over young people. We now are activating the community to claim young people as their own. The community, not our own egos, will become transformed by the “friends” or “likes” of the young people.
We find ourselves empowering others to welcome young people into our gatherings so that we might find ourselves personally supporting the adults that come through our doors to assist as well as those many adults whose shadow only frequents our parking lots in drop off/ pick up mode. And, we can celebrate those adults as well – these are the cool, funny, spiritual adults who are willing to share their spirit with young people. They very well might become the giants mentioned in the lives and testimony of young people’s faith lives.
There has been many a day where I share in Moses’ hope “If only all the people of the Lord were prophets!” The solution to our role in young people’s isolation is to start working with adults towards that very purpose.